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58 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read...
To simply label Ostland as a crime thriller would not only do a great disservice to the sheer power and scope of this novel, but would in turn devalue a book that truly encompasses the very best elements of both the crime and historical fiction genres. This is without a doubt one of the most affecting novels that I have read, so much so, that at times I had to take a...
Published 17 months ago by Raven

versus
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly disjointed
There is important material here and I wish I had been less annoyed by the way the three separate strands of the story never really came together. There are excellent insights into three very different periods of German history but the story-telling didn't quite build and it all rather dropped away.
Published 14 months ago by Alistair Scott


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58 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read..., 19 July 2013
By 
Raven (England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Ostland (Hardcover)
To simply label Ostland as a crime thriller would not only do a great disservice to the sheer power and scope of this novel, but would in turn devalue a book that truly encompasses the very best elements of both the crime and historical fiction genres. This is without a doubt one of the most affecting novels that I have read, so much so, that at times I had to take a breath, emotionally undone by the, at times, harrowing depictions of one of the greatest evils perpetrated in the history of mankind, which is so strongly brought to the reader's consciousness. This is not a book that just deserves to be read but a book that also needs to be read...

From its deceptive beginning as a seemingly straightforward and compelling crime read, Thomas not only manipulates our emotions to the central protagonist, Georg Heuser, but then allows us to bear witness to the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime during the latter stages of World War II. Opening with the real-life investigation of a brutal serial killer, stalking the S-Bahn network, Heuser makes his entrance as a young idealistic detective, driven by an innate sense of morality in the hunt for a killer. At the close of the S-Bahn killer case with the apprehension of the murderer Heuser tries to come to terms with his encounter with "a genuinely evil human being" and that to enter the killer's mind was to "enter a world of violence, degradation and filth, a world without pity, morality, or any feeling whatsoever for his fellow human beings- a world with which I had nothing in common at all" and a sentiment of the young Heuser that remained in my mind throughout the book. With the indelible links between the German security departments Heuser quickly comes to the attention of SS-Reinhard Heydrich and his cohorts, and being promoted to SS-First Lieutenant is despatched to Minsk, an area where half the population is Jewish and which quickly becomes a major processing centre for Reich Jews and the beginning point for Heuser's descent into evil, previously such an anathema to him.

What strikes me most about this novel is the adept way in which not only Thomas assails our sensibilities in his description of the harrowing processing of the Jews, using at times the most understated of images to convey the horror, but how the almost banality of murder imprints itself on the consciences of those despatched to accomplish this task. Hence, our empathies and reactions to Heuser are consistently manipulated and changed, as we bear witness to his actions, and through a parallel post-war storyline involving the bringing of war criminals to justice. Suffice to say that our original perceptions of Heuser as a formerly steadfast harbinger of morality are significantly coloured by the extreme brutality that we witness in the latter half of the book- a brutality that Thomas evokes so deeply in our minds through the powerful and affecting nature of his writing, that at times is almost too uncomfortable to bear but so necessary to read. Thomas' evocation of historical fact, and the prevailing atmosphere of evil, gives rise to some of the most powerful writing I have experienced, and a true study of the shifting nature of morality and its indelible role at the heart of our inherent instinct for survival.

In conclusion, I can only say that Ostland is a book that transcends our expectations as crime readers, and is a richly rewarding read. It effortlessly causes us to engage with it, never shying away from the realities of evil and the destruction of morality it brings in its wake. A novel that unerringly stimulates the thoughts and emotions of the reader, compounded by the harsh realities of human history that form its foundation. Quite simply, a must read.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you read only one book this year, please make it this one..., 23 July 2013
This review is from: Ostland (Hardcover)
Prepare to be startled. The last book I read by David Thomas was 1995's "Girl"Girl, the light, smart, thought-provoking story of an accidental sex change! It's fair to say that Ostland is an entirely different proposition. It's a compelling - but categorically not an easy - read. In fact, there are times when you feel like it kicked you in the stomach, ribs and heart, all at once... and you want to be sick, especially if, like me, your Jewish family suffered this unspeakable history first-hand. But it is extraordinarily powerful and technically - with its parallel storylines some 20 years apart - cleverly-constructed. The compelling serial killer tale at the beginning serves as a fairly comfortable prologue and contrast to the astonishingly uncomfortable, factually-based horror story that unfolds, in tandem with the moral unravelling of Georg Heuser, the main protagonist and ultimate anti-hero, thereafter. This is the first book I've read in ages that I can't stop thinking, talking and even crying about, even two books on (am currently reading the very wonderful "Revenger" by Tom Cain and mourning the end of the series). Why would you not spend ten pounds to read Ostland? An astonishing work and all the more gut-wrenching for its documentary real-ness, this deserves to win every available gong and I hope one day to see it on the global schools curriculum for 16-18 year olds.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tour de Force, 10 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Ostland (Kindle Edition)
This book is a brilliant, heart-rending and utterly credible reconstruction of a reviled role in one of history's most horrendous events. For three days, I was unable to leave it alone; if I wasn't reading it, I was dreaming or imagining it. The fundamental dilemma - would I have done differently - is, perhaps, over-sold. But so carefully is the plot constructed that I found myself unable to answer the dilemma to my own complete satisfaction. A must read!
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brutal and brilliant, 18 July 2013
This review is from: Ostland (Kindle Edition)
I was fortunate enough to have read an advance copy of this last year- and it still haunts. Ostland is the (true) story of a detective who hunts a notorious Berlin serial killer during World War Two, and who is then himself twisted into becoming something far, far worse. Read it and decide if, under the circumstances, you would be any different. OSTLAND is brutal and brilliant, with a savage twist ending that hits like a punch to the kidneys.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ostland, 29 Sep 2013
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ostland (Kindle Edition)
This novel takes real events and weaves together the real and the fictional to create a thought provoking and haunting book. Georg Hauser was an officer of the Criminal Police and the SS and we follow his story, told mainly from his perspective, through two major events in his life. The first, as a young detective and the second as he is investigated for war crimes by the fictional investigators Max Kraus and Paula Siebert. Arrested in 1959, Hauser is a police chief and a man both popular and respected by his colleagues. Kraus and Siebert have a difficult task ahead to prosecute a man who, in 1941 Berlin, was involved in the investigation for the notorious S-Bahn murderer; the ambitious and keen right hand man to Wilhelm Ludtke, head of the Berlin murder squad. Most Germans believe that those being prosecuted for war crimes were just following orders; that they have committed no crimes since returning from the front and that they would prefer to forget the terrible events of the past.

Though the words of Hauser, we hear how he "grew up under the shadow of defeat" after the first world war. How, although never a party member, he thought the National Socialists represented a promise of pride and strength. Looking up to men, such as Heydrich, he longed not only to advance his career, but take a violent killer off the streets. However, the war meant that Hauser would not spend his time in Berlin and, although he arrived in the Reich Commissariat of Ostland as a decent young man, he "had left it a monster..." This novel asks what happened in Riga and Minsk during the years Hauser was there and what turned idealistic, normal young men into the killers of women and children - precisely the people he had sworn as a policeman to protect. At times, this is an unsettling read, but brilliantly done and wonderfully written. It would make a fantastic novel for book groups, with so much to discuss, and you will be unable to read it and remain unmoved.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic, yet harrowing story, 16 Jan 2014
By 
Gordon Thomson (Glasgow, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ostland (Kindle Edition)
This is, quite simply one of the best books I have read over the last year, i could not disagree more with the review that only gave it 3 stars. Don't get me wrong, at times the story telling does have some - minor - faults, but they are outweighed by a gripping stroy that takes you on a journey into the human condition and its dark side. The book tackles this subject well - how do apparently ordinary people become involved in such brutal, inhuman acts? This book kept me thinking about it even when I wasn't reading it. Based on true events it a gripping read, yes its harrowing, yes its brutal, but I think this book handles this subject with dignity and depth. I read a lot of historical books (mostly on the Spanish Civil War) but I still found this book fascinating.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Horrifying but superb read, 1 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Ostland (Hardcover)
I have read many books about the holocaust, both fiction and factual. This rates amongst the best - although that sounds a bit weird given the graphic and accurate depicting of the SS Death Squads in occupied Russia. You will not enjoy reading this - but you should read it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An astonishing, deeply affecting piece of work!, 29 Nov 2014
By 
still searching (MK UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ostland (Paperback)
In the early 1960’s, stimulated by events such as the Holocaust and the trial of the infamous Nazi war criminal, Adolph Eichmann, American psychologist, Stanley Milgram, conducted a series of experiments demonstrating the human capacity to inflict pain and even death on fellow humans if instructed to by appropriate authority figures. The so-called ‘Superior Orders Defence’, which was used by Eichmann in common with many of the Nazis brought to trial at Nuremberg for their crimes, suggests that the actual perpetrators of the crimes were bound by an Oath of Loyalty to Hitler and, by extension, any senior Nazi interpreting his ‘will’.

This novel tells the story of one such perpetrator, Georg Heuser, a young idealistic Berlin police detective at the start of WWII, who contributes to the investigation and eventual capture of the S-Bahn serial killer who was found guilty of the murder of six women in 1941. Like all civil police Heuser becomes part of the SS, incorporating the SD, or Nazi security service under Reinhard Heydrich. As such he held officer ranks in both the civil police and the SS.

Though the story begins in 1941 the greater part outlines the role played by Heuser when he becomes part of an Einsatzgruppen, or ‘deployment group’, tasked with rounding up indigenous Jewish populations in the wake of the German occupation of Eastern Europe and Russia (or Ostland) following Operation Barbarossa, the beginning of Hitler’s ‘War of Annihilation’ on the Soviet Union. Once rounded up they would be ‘processed’ in various ‘actions’ throughout the Nazi occupation as part of the ‘final solution’ to the Jewish Problem. Heuser, though not a Nazi party member, is keen to get on and does all he can to win the approval of his superiors. If this means carrying out orders that he would normally find repugnant then he manages to justify it to himself on the grounds that he is acting on orders from a higher authority of the Nazi state in the interests of his country in the midst of a vicious war of annihilation in which both sides compete with one another to demonstrate just how monstrous they can be.

The novel is carefully researched and in Georg Heuser we come to know what it may have been like for, what may have been, in ordinary circumstances, an ordinarily decent man driven to extremes by extraordinary conditions. We all like to think, I’m sure, that we would not have followed those heinous orders but how many, I wonder, with any degree of certitude, can say how they would have behaved given the same set of circumstances? Circumstances that, hopefully, the world will never see again.

This is an astonishing piece of work, cleverly constructed and brilliantly written, to evoke within the reader just that question posed above.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, intriguing, thought provoking, 3 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Ostland (Kindle Edition)
I'd agree with one of the very few poor reviews of this book just in so far as the descriptions of Nazi atrocities are nothing new to anyone who has ever bothered to read anything about the holocaust, or even just watched Schindler's List. What is really more interesting is the insight into how someone descends to these levels, especially from the position they formally held, how they rationalise it and process/deal with it. Perhaps the greatest feat of this book though is that it leaves you, well me at least, holding two contradictory thoughts in my head at once: that a moral society must surely punish and condemn such actions and that to do so is a self serving act from the luxury of knowing you weren't there and are never likely to be in that situation, because if you were you almost certainly wouldn't take the moral high ground at all. For that disconcerting reason alone this is a book worth reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, 1 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Ostland (Kindle Edition)
Interesting, haunting, well written, disturbing, most horrific because it's a true story, not enjoyable but a must read. I'm glad it's over and I'm glad I read it.
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Ostland
Ostland by David Thomas
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